Living With Nothing; Or, ‘If You Don’t Like This One Nothing Is Going To Make You Happy’

On December 5, 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in the month of November 2014 nonfarm private payrolls had surged by +321k. Typically bureaucratic, the introduction to the report was unusually blunt. “Job gains were widespread.” The text didn’t come right out and say it so the media did it all for them.

TD Ameritrade’s Chief Strategist JJ Kinahan was pumped, declaring the November numbers, “outside any estimate I had seen even on the high side. Overall this is a home run in terms of jobs created”. There could be no doubt that this was the best jobs market in decades. As such, my absolute favorite quote from that entire period was uttered by PNC Economist Stuart Hoffman.

If you don’t like this one [Nov 2014] nothing is going to make you happy.

The good news wouldn’t end at the November headline. Average weekly earnings were up sharply, too. Rising 4.2%, it was the best paying month for production and non-supervisory employees in more than four years.

Two months later, in early February 2015, the BLS would revise its November 2014 numbers. Payrolls hadn’t gained +321k as originally thought, the government agency would say it was so much better than that. It was an incredible blowout month, +423k, followed by +329k in January, and then the initial estimate for February, +257k. By that time, +257k in February was disappointing.

If you don’t like these nothing is going to make you happy.

I am nothing if not Mr. Nothing. Apologies to all Economists, but you can, in fact, look at a payroll report such as the one for November 2014 and realize it won’t make anyone happy besides Economists, central bankers, and the media. Economic joy just isn’t going to be found in these BLS figures.

At best, the employment numbers since 2014 have been irrelevant; at worst, they can be, as the unemployment rate, highly misleading. They certainly were in 2014 and 2015 heading into what was a near-recession downturn. Ironically, despite all the recent hoopla and hysteria, the labor market hasn’t been the same since.

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